New Zealand weren’t under a lot of pressure as they headed into the clash against Afghanistan at Napier on Sunday. They had won all of their first four matches, and most of them convincingly. The triumphs had already ensured them a place in the quarter-finals. Under the scenario, it was impressive to see them maintain their standards in the game against Afghanistan as well, to record their fifth straight win in the tournament. It was another fantastic performance from their bowlers, which set things up very nicely, and the batsmen reiterated the all-round skills the present New Zealand side possess.
One of the biggest positives for New Zealand in the tournament has been the bowling form of Daniel Vettori. The veteran Kiwi spinner did not go into the tournament high on confidence. While he was economical during his performances in the lead up to the tournament, he wasn’t picking up too many wickets. In fact, he was selected only the basis of his vast experience. However, Vettori has stood up on the big stage yet again. He seems to have regained his mojo. In every game, he has been impressive, picking up wickets, and keeping the runs down. Not surprisingly, the Afghanistan batsmen had no answer to his guile.
New Zealand’s bowling has been among the most destructive of all sides in this event, and they did not take it easy against Afghanistan as well. Trent Boult was brilliant versus Australia, and continued his magnificent form against the Afghan batsmen as well. He did not allow the batsmen to settle into any sort of rhythm at all. In combination with Vettori, he stifled the batting unit, and once Afghanistan had crumbled to 59 for 6, the match was in New Zealand’s grasp. If anything, New Zealand should be disappointed that they allowed Afghanistan to recover to post 186.
Although a victory was a foregone conclusion, it was imperative for the Kiwis to not let things slip, as they had found themselves in trouble against Scotland chasing a lower score. Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill, however, ensured that there were no such worries this time round. McCullum continued his scintillating run, and that should worry most opponents. The bigger plus for New Zealand was the return to form of Guptill. He hadn’t done much in the World Cup so far, and so his half century should give him confidence as New Zealand head into the knock-out stages. Ross Taylor also spent some time out in the middle, which was essential.
Afghanistan again struggled because of their heavy reliance on Samiullah Shenwari. He has been the only one who has consistently been among the runs for the team. So much was expected of talents like Nawroz Mangal and skipper Mohamamd Nabi himself. Unfortunately, they have not been able to stand up and deliver on the big stage. As a batting unit, Afghanistan have struggled, which is why they haven’t been as impressive as expected. The bowlers gave it their all again, but they just did have enough runs on the board.
--By A Cricket Analyst